The Bartlett School of Planning


The Clean Urban Agenda - What the Paris Climate Agreement Means for Urban Development

17 October 2016

The Clean Urban Agenda

UCL's Dr Robin Hickman and Dr Duncan Smith and Greenpeace's Daniel Moser are providing input to the Habitat III conference in Quito, Ecuador, running from 17-20 October, 2016. They argue that the huge projected growth in urbanisation presents a unique opportunity to help develop sustainable transport systems - with a focus required on developing compact and polycentric urban form and huge investment in public transport, walking and cycling.

  • Urban areas are expanding at an unprecedented rate in history presenting a huge window of opportunity for low carbon urban development: In 2030, there are expected to be 41 megacities and 63 large cities – and the global population will have risen from the present 7.3 billion to 8.5 billion.
  • Cities develop their unique trajectories in terms of urban development and transport system pathways – many of these pathways have strong path dependencies. Much of the growth is happening in medium-sized and small cities and is happening in low density, dispersed urban forms. 
  • The infrastructure build-up associated with this rapid urban expansion, much of it likely to be dispersed and car dependent sprawl, means the 2°C, let alone 1.5°C, atmospheric warming thresholds will not be met – approx. 470 GtCO2 will be added to the atmosphere under this business as usual scenario.
  • Designing cities to have a compact and polycentric urban form, with extensive public transport, walking and cycling networks is critical to lower CO2 emissions, including infrastructure build-up and transport CO2 emissions. 
  • Compact cities also provide huge efficiencies and cost savings as they reduce transport infrastructure needs and costs and greatly reduce negative external costs associated with rapid urbanisation.

The authors' submission, The Clean Urban Agenda – What the Paris Climate Agreement means for Urban Development? is a chapter from a fuller report on the global automobility system - to be released in December 2016.

Habitat III

Habitat III is the Third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development. It will be one of the first global conferences after the Post 2015 Development Agenda. It is an opportunity to discuss and chart new pathways in response to the challenges of urbanisation and the opportunities it offers for the implementation of the sustainable development goals.